U.S. retail sales surge, driven by autos and gasoline purchases

US retail sales jump in September on strong demand for autos

Last month's increase in retail sales was the largest since March 2015.

United States retail sales soared in September led by a surge in those for motor vehicles and parts.

US retail sales recorded their biggest increase in 2-1/2 years in September likely as reconstruction and clean-up efforts in areas devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma boosted demand for building materials and motor vehicles. Ex-auto sales had been expected to rise by 0.3 percent.

Booming auto and gasoline sales in September pushed the USA retail sector to its highest level in more than two years, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The result was also 4.4 percent above September of a year ago. Department store sales however continued to sink, falling 0.4 percent for the month after losing 0.2 percent in August.

Even excluding the volatile auto and gas categories, sales rose a solid 0.5 percent, up from a 0.1 percent gain in August. The rebound in core retail sales suggests the drag on the economy from the hurricanes will probably be modest.

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The retail sales report is closely watched because it provides an early read on consumer activity each month.

Economists estimate the storms could subtract at least six-tenths of a percentage point from third-quarter GDP growth.

Not all stores saw a boost: Sales at furnishers, electronics and appliance stores, and sporting goods stores fell. Auto sales jumped 3.6 percent, the most since March 2015.

Online retailers reported another healthy gain of 0.5 percent.

The economy grew at a 3.1 percent annualized rate in the April-June period.

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